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India's telecoms minister resigns amid anticorruption drive

India's telecommunications minister resigned Sunday amid a major corruption scandal. His is one of a string of resignations as India's anticorruption drive gets under way.

By Mian RidgeCorrespondent / November 16, 2010



New Delhi

India’s telecommunications minister resigned Sunday over allegations of massive corruption. His was the latest in a recent string of graft-related resignations from India’s Congress-led government – and the clearest sign yet the government is attempting to clean up its tainted image ahead of important state elections.

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Andimuthu Raja, who until Sunday presided over the world’s fastest-growing telecoms market, handed his resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a year after an investigation began into the sale of second generation airwave licenses to mobile phone operators. Those sales are reported to have deprived the Indian version of the IRS of up to $30 billion in revenue.

Political corruption has long been a major concern in India, but little has been done to address it until recently. Transparency International ranked India 84th out 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index last year. In a 2008 study, the organization found that Indians living below the poverty line paid out $195 million annually in bribes to access basic services.

New push against corruption

Indeed, in a country in which politicians often elude justice, and about a quarter of Indian parliamentarians have faced criminal charges, Mr. Raja’s downfall is particularly significant because he is a member of the DMK party, which rules the southern state of Tamil Nadu and is a key ally in the Congress-led coalition. Because his departure could weaken the government’s majority, analysts say the government for the first time appears to be prioritizing its anticorruption drive.

Upcoming elections in states in the south are a factor in such a visible anticorruption campaign, say observers. The government is likely to have been emboldened to do this following last year's general elections, which gave the Congress party a bigger majority. Another factor is possibly the international embarrassment caused by allegations of corruption that marred the Commonwealth Games in October.

Speaking with university students Monday, Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Congress party, said the central government was taking decisive action over corruption. “There is need to be very strict on corruption and the government is in the process of taking some very strict action,” he said.

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